Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rex Murphy and the #ymmfire

Rex Murphy is talking the Fort McMurray fire. Despite a virtually universal outpouring of support and sympathy from across the land for the victims of the fire, he with his exhausting logorrhoea is doing his best to sow division. Referring to anyone of an environmentalist or activist strand who has criticised the Tar Sands, he utters:
And just to blow pepper into the sad eyes of those dispossessed and thrown on the road, there was the predictable troupe of gloaters and sadists — a bleak and wretched lot, though, thank God, small — gloating about karma, and “whadyja expect” and “Nature’s revenge” on the oilsands. Miserable bastards, whose brains are missing and whose hearts are dead. 
OK, Rex. Nobody, but nobody, is gloating about Fort McMurray fire. It is a disaster and an emergency with few parallels in Canadian history. More than 80 000 people are displaced and much a town destroyed. Nobody I have seen, and believe me, I have been watching this closely since it began, has said anything untoward about the fleeing people. An environmental activist might have a sibling working on the rigs in the Tar Sands and many workers in that community understand the environmental hazard that their industry represents. Even industry knows, path dependent as it is.

The criticism levelled by environmentalists about Fort McMurray has ALWAYS been about the industry that town has boomed around. Where criticism has been voiced about the people who live and work there, it's in relation to the vice and social problems that high-wage boom towns attract, which is a form of care. That Rex would suggest otherwise - in the middle of a humanitarian emergency - means he's either bone stupid or maliciously trying to politicise and position this disaster from the getgo as a conflict between his partisans and 'environmentalists'. I won't insult him by assuming he's stupid.

Now, having said that, make no mistake that this disaster is political.

One, Fort McMurray is a single-industry resource town. Like every other resource town in Canada, it is deeply affected by the market boom and bust cycles that plague the natural resource sector. Should  Fort Mac have got rich on a timber or diamond boom, the bust would inevitably come as global markets did their thing - even without climate change. It was well bust when this fire hit, making the practical economic incentive for rebuilding and repopulating a very serious problem.

Two, the role of Fort McMurray's industry in the fire cannot be overlooked. Boreal forests are likely in a very different fire regime due to climate change (and this year, the addition of El Nino weather patterns). There is no shortage of solid scientific research on this and is extremely likely to be the causal mechanism. Discussing this is not the same as gloating. With any other disaster there are two sets of conversations that happen at the time. One is concern for the victims, and the second is the discussion of causes. Hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, tsunami and we're immediately talking about weather systems, engineering, building codes, pilot error, tectonic slips, anything that could have caused the event, or protected or made vulnerable the victims or certain victims. It's how we learn and cope with the awfulness of it all and try to prevent or prepare for the next occurrence.

Three, people are impacted. The lives and livelihoods of at least 80 000 have been immediately and radically disrupted. This will have a profound impact on people's short and long-term well-being. No one is laughing at or mocking this fact. Make no mistake that the casualty list over the coming years will grow from the two tragic car-crash deaths in the evacuation, but no one will really notice. Some evacuees, men mostly, will never recover from the shock to their well-being and sense of place and identity, and self-destruct. Some to the point of suicide.  Women will take on additional burdens and some will face abuse as the men with strong occupational identities and used to very high provider-wages struggle with loss identity and income. Children and youth will face their own challenges of dislocation, broken marriages, and the loss of friends and stability.

Not so for The Beast, according to the Rex Murphys of Canada. For them, climate change and disaster impacts beyond the immediate hero-worship of victims and anyone in a uniform is like the violent blowback from foreign policy misadventures. Discussion of causes and long-term consequences is off-limits and results in vicious name-calling and deflection when attempted. They'll also stop paying attention in the weeks, months, and years ahead where the full impact of the disaster on displaced people manifests.

Contrary to Rex, progressives and activists who protest the Tar Sands largely amplify the voices of scientific research evidence that show our fossil fuel dependence leads to tragedies like this fire - and much worse. Contrary to Rex it is a deeply-rooted desire to see humanity have a future that drives this informed commentary. Quite different from gloating sadism and dead hearts.